Drew Brees is one of the NFL’s good guys. Few players are more involved in the community, and few are more respected on and off the field. The 38-year-old quarterback of the New Orleans Saints is now working to raise awareness about the signs of exertional heat stroke, a significant cause of death in high school athletes, with “The Heat Factor” campaign.
The onetime Super Bowl winner and MVP is a 10-time Pro Bowl selection who won the prestigious Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2006. Brees ― who also caught up with HuffPost in 2013 ― talked with HuffPost about exertional heat stroke, the challenges of being a dad in the NFL (he has four kids) and why he doesn’t play basketball.
There is often a misdiagnosis between concussions and exertional heat stroke.
Well, I would just say the symptoms are similar. If you see somebody on the football field kind of stumbling around, you might initially think he’s concussed, took a shot to the head. Whereas it might be a case of EHS, and his body temperature is now at 104 or above and he’s extremely dehydrated and he’s starting to go into some type of organ issues that’s affecting his brain as well. That’s obviously a different situation that requires immediate attention. There’s protocols in place to try to get the body to cool down immediately before getting any type of organ damage or potentially death.
I think the concussion element is, short term you’re going to be OK, but long term there’s serious effects. If you don’t address a concussion right now and give it the proper rest — really with the concussion just comes rest, allow it to heal. With EHS, it’s not we’re just going to rest and allow yourself to heal. It’s we got to cool the body down now or else we’re risking organ failure or death.
So I’d say there’s obviously a difference. While the symptoms might appear to look the same on the field, they’re obviously different protocols.
How do you pair being a dad with being an All-Pro quarterback?
It is [hard], and I think it gets harder as the kids get older, because they’re involved in so many activities and you want to be at all of them. But I’d say my kids know that when I go to work, “Dad’s got a great purpose for what he’s doing at work.”
How hard is it to physically leave the house and go to work?
So while at times it’s hard to leave the house because maybe my daughter is saying “don’t leave” and stuff like that, I feel like I have a good system in place. My wife is so supportive and such a cornerstone with her communication, like “Hey, daddy’s gotta go to work, or daddy’s working hard to support the family, or daddy’s gotta get ready to go play the big football game and we’re gonna go see him in the game this weekend.” They understand it.
She’ll bring them up to the facility sometimes, like if I know I’m going to have a late night, she’ll bring them up to the facility and maybe have dinner together and run around the indoor facility just for a little while. But for the most part, I structure my day around, “OK, when are they going to be awake? When am I going to be with them?” I try to be there for them at night to read them a book before they go to bed on the busy days, so we have our moments.
What is the daily routine?
I leave the house before everybody is up. I’m an early riser. In the offseason, I usually get up around 4, 4:30 ― that’s the offseason so I try to get work done before the kids get up around 6, 6:30. But during the season I usually get up around 5, head into the facility, and kind of start my day off by watching film, getting ready for the day, going to the weight room, get my body loose, go get breakfast, and we kinda start the day.
It’s meetings, about three hours. It’s all installation, game planning, looking at film of the opponent, then you go out on the field and you’re in practice for three hours, then it’s back to the weight room. You’ve got your media responsibilities, then it’s going to the training room ― let’s take care of the body ― and then go to the post-practice meetings where we watch practice and make corrections. Then it’s all right, let’s study the game plan. Make sure to head home at a certain time to know I’ll catch the kids before bed. It’s a full day.
What role then does sleep play for you?
Right at seven hours, seven-and-a-half hours, is kind of my sweet spot. Unfortunately, I probably get a lot less than that. When I’m in heavy training during the season, I really try to do that because the recovery is vital, it’s vital ― healing the body, healing the mind. But during the offseason, I probably don’t get as much rest as I should because I’ve got a lot going on.
Do you dabble in hoops at all?
I love basketball, but I don’t really play because of the injury risk. I dunk on people all the time though. [Laughs] No, no dunking on people.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.